Many behavioral, physiological, and anatomical studies utilize animal models to investigate human striatal pathologies. Although commonly used, rodent striatum may not present the optimal animal model for certain studies due to a lesser morphological complexity than that of non-human primates, which are increasingly restricted in research. As an alternative, the tree shrew could provide a beneficial animal model for studies of the striatum. The gross morphology of the tree shrew striatum resembles that of primates, with separation of the caudate and putamen by the internal capsule. The neurochemical anatomy of the ventral striatum, specifically the nucleus accumbens, has never been examined. This major region of the limbic system plays a role in normal physiological functioning and is also an area of interest for human striatal disorders. The current study uses immunohistochemistry of calbindin and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) to determine the ultrastructural organization of the nucleus accumbens core and shell of the tree shrew (Tupaia glis belangeri). Stereology was used to quantify the ultrastructural localization of TH, which displays weaker immunoreactivity in the core and denser immunoreactivity in the shell. In both regions, synapses with TH-immunoreactive axon terminals were primarily symmetric and showed no preference for targeting dendrites versus dendritic spines. The results were compared to previous ultrastructural studies of TH and dopamine in rat and monkey nucleus accumbens. Tree shrews and monkeys show no preference for the postsynaptic target in the shell, in contrast to rats which show a preference for synapsing with dendrites. Tree shrews have a ratio of asymmetric to symmetric synapses formed by TH-immunoreactive terminals that is intermediate between rats and monkeys. The findings from this study support the tree shrew as an alternative model for studies of human striatal pathologies.
Keywords: dopamine; electron microscopy; immunohistochemistry; striatum; ultrastructure.
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